It's no secret that people in southwestern Ontario -- Londoners in particular -- are seriously pissed with Caterpillar. In fact, in an unprecedented show of support for labour, both London Mayor Joe Fontana and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty are on record as saying Caterpillar has been unfair to the employees of Electro-Motive.
Thursday afternoon I caught up with the president of CAW Local 27, Tim Carrie, in the lobby of the London Hilton during a break from closure negotiations with Caterpillar.
Meg Borthwick: So Tim, negotiations seem to be progressing ...
Tim Carrie: Yeah. Obviously we've spent the past while trying to find any way to keep the plant running, but the employer's position on cost structure hasn't changed whatsoever, so now we're really hammering away at trying to find a reasonable closure agreement.
MB: Do you think Caterpillar ever had any intention to bargain in good faith when they offered those wage cuts?
TC: No. For example, we've just discovered a copy of the closure letter delivered to Electro-Motive employees after the announcement of closure last week. That copy of the closure letter was posted on the Progress Rail website. The copy is dated April 21, 2011. So, if there's anything that makes it more clear that they never intended to produce locomotives in London, that's it.
MB: Can you speculate as to whether the wage-cut proposal and lockout by Caterpillar were part of some strategy to soften you up for the closure negotiations they knew were coming?
TC: Maybe that was part of it. I also think they thought we'd continue to produce locomotives at the London plant under their cost structure, as a secondary plant, while they got the Muncie, Indiana plant ready. They would've liked that, but we were not going to do that with the wages they proposed.
MB: So it's looking like Caterpillar isn't going with the minimum severance allowable under the Employment Standards Act.
TC: We're definitely bargaining a closure agreement that is over and above the minimum standards. Right now we're at the point where we're bargaining for how much. It's like any labour negotiation; we put an offer on the table, Caterpillar counters that offer, and so on.
MB: Is there any indication that Caterpillar is behaving better because they're aware that a bottom line closure agreement would violate civil law, where the precedent is closer to one month for every year of service, as opposed to the minimum one week?
TC: What Caterpillar is extremely aware of is the massive campaign against them, not only here in London, but across the country. Caterpillar wants that campaign stopped. Now as CAW, part of our agreement might be that we stop our campaign. There's no doubt in my mind that Caterpillar pulled the plug earlier than they wanted to, and that the enormous campaign of the public is hurting them.
MB: Mark's Work Warehouse is no longer carrying their products.
TC: And the TSC stores took their products off their shelves. What I see across the country is people, business people, all sorts, being part of the anti-CAT campaign that's huge on the social networks. That's a major factor in why Caterpillar is so willing to pay above the minimum standard. Not because they've got a conscience, but because they recognize that we have a lot of support, not just from within the labour movement but within the broader community as well.
MB: People aren't buying their products.
TC: That's right. For example, government uses front-end loaders for infrastructure projects, and Caterpillar makes them. There's talk at the provincial government level, questioning why should they buy from Caterpillar when they pull all of their business out of Ontario. If I were a government leader, I'd be wondering that.
MB: If I were a government leader who wanted to get re-elected I would be saying that!
TC: I think you're going to be seeing, in the future, some kind of response from the government about their position on the Caterpillar issue. The CAW has had some good dialogue with Mr. McGuinty and from our position, having the Ontario premier announce that what Caterpillar did was unfair -- that's unprecedented! So, it's not over. They've hurt our province, they've hurt our city, they've hurt our people, and they're going to pay a price for it.
Meg Borthwick is one of the moderators of babble, rabble.ca's online forum.
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